Coach Joe Gibbs and half the players weren't with the team last November, so they really have no idea how dreadful the Redskins played in losing to the Bears, triggering a series of events that eventually led to Jack Pardee's dismissal.
In the opinion of owner Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins came precariously close to quitting that day after Walter Payton scored on Chicago's first scrimmage play. The Bears led, 35-0, before the half was over, then cruised to a 35-21 victory that left Cooke so angry he went public for the first time and demanded the players start showing some enthusiasm, or else.
Two months later, Pardee was fired as coach.
Washington returns today to Soldier Field (WDVM-TV-9, 2 p.m.) under equally tumultuous circumstances, despite the large roster turnover and the coaching change.
Although Gibbs' job still is secure, the Redskins have yet to win after five games, injuries have wiped out whatever depth the team once had and the players are getting more discouraged with every defeat. The Bears are rated four-point favorites.
And to make matters worse for Washington, Payton still is waiting to enjoy a typical Walter Payton game this season, though he is listed as questionable with a thigh bruise.
"He's ready to explode one week," Gibbs said. "You know it's going to happen sometime. He hasn't gained 100 yards in a game yet. It's just a matter of time."
The Redskin rushing defense has had problems stopping average runners, much less someone the caliber of Payton. Chicago seems certain to concentrate on the right side of the Washington front four, where rookie Dexter Manley again is expected to replace injured Mat Mendenhall. Manley is a decent pass rusher but hardly an accomplished player against the run, as San Francisco proved last week.
Things have gone so badly for the Redskins this year that they can't even use revenge as a motive, although they do realize the 1-4 Bears are one of the few teams left on the schedule that doesn't have a decisive personnel advantage.
"We've got too many other problems to worry about (besides) getting even," said linebacker Rich Milot, who was beaten by Payton last year on a 54-yard touchdown pass. "The one encouraging thing is that we seem to be healthier. We haven't got many players back but the ones we have feel better. I know I'm not as sore as I've been."
Milot's year so far has been typical of many Redskin players. After a fine training camp, he thought he was ready to enjoy the best regular season of his career. Instead, an early shoulder injury slowed him so much that he has only 16 tackles and is just now starting to hit with the kind of authority the coaches had been expecting.
But with Monte Coleman almost ready to start again (he could see limited play today), Milot could have trouble holding onto his starting spot after this game.
As many as four other regular Redskin starters either won't play or will be available only for spot duty. But Joe Washington is almost 100 percent, which could bolster a rushing attack that will depend heavily on the blocking of the youngest line in the league. Tackle George Starke is out with a broken hand, so Gibbs will start four rookies and center Jeff Bostic, a second-year player.
The Redskins will try to run consistently, if for no other reason than to take some of the pressure off quarterback Joe Theismann. Gibbs has praised the Bear defense all week, saying it is one of the hardest to prepare for, even though Chicago is last in the NFC in most defensive categories.
"We want to force some turnovers with our pass rush," Chicago Coach Neill Armstrong said. "For sure, we think the ball will be up in the air a lot."
Armstrong obviously has been studying Redskin game films. Turnovers, along with injuries and penalties, have been most responsible for Washington's horrid start. The Redskins lead the NFL in errors (10 fumbles, 11 interceptions), and have seen six of those mistakes turned into 37 points by opponents' special teams and defenses.
"I thought of a million ways to try to stop the turnovers, like giving everyone one thousand bucks and taking it away from a person if he fumbles," Gibbs said. "I don't know what the answer is."
Gibbs also would like one of his Redskins to start making "big, sensational, great" plays any time the team nears the end zone. And he labeled pass protection as another key "because they blitz everyone and they blitz a lot."
Chicago has to blitz because its front four has been ineffective with straight rushes. And opponents have averaged 231 passing yards a game throwing on a secondary that starts rookie cornerback Reuben Henderson and no longer includes safety Doug Plank, who has been benched.
Quarterback Vince Evans came back from a bruised shoulder to pass for 307 yards against Minnesota last week, although the Bears lost when Hans Nielsen (since cut) missed a last-second field goal.
Two new starters in the offensive line (rookie tackle Keith Van Horne and veteran guard Emanuel Zanders) helped keep Evans from being sacked in the Viking game. And rookie receiver Ken Margerum, from Stanford, caught 10 passes starting for injured Rickey Watts.
Seventeen of Evans' 26 completions were to wide receivers. Still, the Redskins would prefer to force him to pass downfield today, especially now that cornerback Lemar Parrish is healthy. And the more passes Evans attempts, the less Payton will have a chance to run.